Interpretability of Neural Networks

The theory and the interpretability of deep neural networks have always been called into questions. In the recent few years, there have been several ideas uncovering the theory of neural networks.

Renormalization Group (RG)

Mehta and Schwab analytically connected renormalization group (RG) with one particular type of deep learning networks, the restricted Boltzmann machines (RBM). (See their paper and a previous post.) RBM is similar to Heisenberg model in statistical physics. This weakness of this work is that it can only explain only one type of deep learning algorithms.

However, this insight gives rise to subsequent work, with the use of density matrix renormalization group (DMRG), entanglement renormalization (in quantum information), and tensor networks, a new supervised learning algorithm was invented. (See their paper and a previous post.)

Neural Networks as Polynomial Approximation

Lin and Tegmark were not satisfied with the RG intuition, and pointed out a special case that RG does not explain. However, they argue that neural networks are good approximation to several polynomial and asymptotic behaviors of the physical universe, making neural networks work so well in predictive analytics. (See their paper, Lin’s reply on Quora, and a previous post.)

Information Bottleneck (IB)

Tishby and his colleagues have been promoting information bottleneck as a backing theory of deep learning. (See previous post.) In recent papers such as arXiv:1612.00410, on top of his information bottleneck, they devised an algorithm using variation inference.


Recently, Kawaguchi, Kaelbling, and Bengio suggested that “deep model classes have an exponential advantage to represent certain natural target functions when compared to shallow model classes.” (See their paper and a previous post.) They provided their proof using generalization theory. With this, they introduced a new family of regularization methods.

Geometric View on Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN)

Recently, Lei, Su, Cui, Yau, and Gu tried to offer a geometric view of generative adversarial networks (GAN), and provided a simpler method of training the discriminator and generator with a large class of transportation problems. However, I am still yet to understand their work, and their experimental results were done on low-dimensional feature spaces. (See their paper.) Their work is very mathematical.

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Linking Fundamental Physics to Deep Learning

Ever since Mehta and Schwab laid out the relationship between restricted Boltzmann machines (RBM) and deep learning mathematically (see my previous entry), scientists have been discussing why deep learning works so well. Recently, Henry Lin and Max Tegmark put a preprint on arXiv (arXiv:1609.09225), arguing that deep learning works because it captures a few essential physical laws and properties. Tegmark is a cosmologist.

Physical laws are simple in a way that a few properties, such as locality, symmetry, hierarchy etc., lead to large-scale, universal, and often complex phenomena. A lot of machine learning algorithms, including deep learning algorithms, have deep relations with formalisms outlined in statistical mechanics.

A lot of machine learning algorithms are basically probability theory. They outlined a few types of algorithms that seek various types of probabilities. They related the probabilities to Hamiltonians in many-body systems.

They argued why neural networks can approximate functions (polynomials) so well, giving a simple neural network performing multiplication. With central limit theorem or Jaynes’ arguments (see my previous entry), a lot of multiplications, they said, can be approximated by low-order polynomial Hamiltonian. This is like a lot of many-body systems that can be approximated by 4-th order Landau-Ginzburg-Wilson (LGW) functional.

Properties such as locality reduces the number of hyper-parameters needed because it restricts to interactions among close proximities. Symmetry further reduces it, and also computational complexities. Symmetry and second order phase transition make scaling hypothesis possible, leading to the use of the tools such as renormalization group (RG). As many people have been arguing, deep learning resembles RG because it filters out unnecessary information and maps out the crucial features. Tegmark use classifying cats vs. dogs as an example, as in retrieving temperatures of a many-body systems using RG procedure. They gave a counter-example to Schwab’s paper with the probabilities cannot be preserved by RG procedure, but while it is sound, but it is not the point of the RG procedure anyway.

They also discussed about the no-flattening theorems for neural networks.

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